Getting to zero emissions in some applications may require more capability than current all-electric vehicles can provide.
That’s the case for Southern California Gas in Bakersfield, California, which partnered with Ford to pilot an F-550 Super Duty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Truck because, after all, utility trucks can frequently hit the road at all hours of the day and end up in some demanding situations with their lift buckets rising to the challenge again and again.
Such demanding duty cycles can require an all-electric truck to stop and retreat to a charger; whereas, a truck equipped with fuel cell technology can provide a steady current of electricity to a vehicle’s powertrain batteries through an electrochemical process that results from combining hydrogen and oxygen.
Ford Pro has taken notice.
"For our wide spectrum of Ford Pro customers, there are application gaps that battery electric vehicles just can't fulfill yet, so we're looking at hydrogen fuel cells to power larger, heavier commercial vehicles while still delivering zero tailpipe emissions,” said Jim Buczkowski, executive director of Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.
Ford’s collaboration with SoCalGas is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's SuperTruck 3 program, which aims to significantly reduce emissions in medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
"We are honored to work with Ford on their strategy to help reduce emissions," said Neil Navin, vice president of clean energy innovations at SoCalGas. "This project is a critical step toward finding real-world solutions to decarbonize heavy-duty transportation, such as our utility fleet with Ford's H2 Fuel Cell Electric F-550."
SoCalGas reports that the “project represents a unique opportunity to decarbonize large fleets like utilities that require long ranges, fast refueling, onboard power needs, and 24/7 emergency response.”
The demonstration project will also include a temporary hydrogen refueling station at SoCalGas' Bakersfield facility. The truck is expected to deploy in 2025.
SoCalGas' fleet already includes 50 hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (HFCEVs), making the company among the first utilities in the nation to start transitioning to hydrogen-powered vehicles.
More recently, SoCalGas announced plans to install 1,500 electric vehicle chargers at 67 company facilities by the end of 2024. Currently, a third of SoCalGas' over-the-road fleet operates on clean fuels.